A Diary Of Special Days
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January 20

Mensa       I took the Mensa test this month, mostly just looking for fun stuff to do. Turns out they have a monthly meeting across the street from our house with a big board game party. They also have all sorts of email discussion groups on just about any topic you can think of. Reportedly, there's a monster big three-day halloween party every year, too! Woo! Kim liked the sound of that so much she took the test in February.

March 11

       Today, we started Geocaching. Actually, we started last year in August, when the Kohsters took us out, but we didn't seriously get into it then. Today we decided to try it again. We found a cache that eluded us last year, and the charge from that has hooked us! What is Geocaching? Well, the most succinct response to that question, as I've heard it, is, "We use multi-million dollar government Global Positioning technology to find tupperware containers in the woods." These icons represent our family stats:

April 4

       It begins. We've officially signed a contract with an architect to draw plans for our second-story addition. If all goes well, by next fall we'll be living in a much bigger home!

UPDATE: No dice. The project has been indefinitely postponed. Here's the story:

       In order to build a second story addition, (here, the laws may differ elsewhere) one should first contact a bank or some other lender. Our bank told us that, based on initial concept (no plans yet, just neighborhood comparisons) we should be able to afford this project. They would NOT give us any money or sign any papers until we had a contractor, as the contractor is the one who is actually authorized to withdraw cash from the construction account.

       To hire a contractor, you need to know what you're building. So you go to the architect. He charges around $5000 (more or less, depending on who you hire and how big your job is.) From him you get plans. These you take to several contractors, each of whom bids on the contract. When they've all done that -- and they all want FINAL plans for a bid, not rough sketches or preliminary plans -- you pick one to hire, and then you go BACK to the bank. THEY look at how much the contractor wants to charge for the project, and then they look at what you owe on the current mortgage plus all the other mysterious stuff that goes along with home ownership, and they tell you how much money they're giving you. From this you can finally calculate how much the new monthly mortgage payment is actually going to be.

       It seems to me that this information would do a person a lot more good at the BEGINNING of the process. At this point, we've invested thousands of dollars and many hours in a project that is still not a sure thing.

       It turns out that we could afford this project, provided some things changed. I would have to get a full-time job that paid well enough to support Xavier and Arizona in day care and after-school care AND pay for the current mortgage, as the new price is double the monthly cost of the old price. Add to this the costs of travel, business wardrobe, more meals eaten out, and the other various costs of working outside the home, and the virtual costs of losing time with my boys, locking the poor dog up all day every day, and letting some stranger be the daily guiding influence for my son, and the real price of this project skyrockets.

       So, we're waiting until Kim's career progress and my income opportunities -- few, as they must meet my lifestyle requirements -- grow sufficiently to cover the costs. Keep your fingers crossed!

April 22

       The insane early spring yard shenanigans continue! (Last year's version available for limited download here.) This year we decided to put in a backyard veggie garden in the side yard. It's a 35' by 5' strip of (slightly) raised garden bed, enriched with our own home-grown compost pile (a 36" square wooden pen) and fenced off to protect it from marauding kids and dogs. We learned several things from this project:

  1. Fresh compost is stickier than super-glue.
  2. Tomato vines REALLY should be trained onto tomato stakes.
  3. Compost piles must be turned once a week or they freeze.
  4. Frozen compost heaps take a VERY long time to thaw.
  5. Green bean vines are stronger than 1" square wooden poles.
  6. Corn stalks don't really stand on their own.
  7. Mosquitoes like living in tomato forests.
  8. Zucchini plants are prolific producers.
  9. Birds laugh at most common bird deterrent techniques.
the new veggie garden
I'm sure there are more things to learn.

June 16

June 29 to
July 1

       We drove up to Petoskey, MI, to visit Kim's grandma Whitworth and her aunt Mary and uncle Dick. Man, that's a nice spot. We left mid-day Friday and stopped a couple of times for some caching -- 5 for 6 finds for the day. The one we didn't find was the coolest. There was a site in the woods near the highway that looked like it might be an OOOOLD house or an OOOOLD stone-walled barnyard or something. A stone wall buried in a hill of dirt, at any rate. And a car. An 85% buried car. Which had been buried for a LOOOONG time. Well, mostly buried.

       That part of Michigan is really pleasant, right on the lake as it is. We didn't do anything really fancy, just visiting with the folks, mostly, but the cool lake breeze really made me wish we could have stayed longer. We did spend an afternoon at the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, part of the Little Traverse Conservancy, in turn one of the Michigan Land Trusts. It was a beautiful little woodland trail loop that led down to the beach and back up again. Arizona and Xavier and I skipped rocks on the lake for a while. Well, I skipped and the boys tossed. On the way back up, I decided it was so nice out there that I had to see the whole loop (there are 3 possible routes from top to bottom) so I ran about a mile or so through the woods while everyone else walked a sedate 1/3 mile.

       Hanging out with everyone involved some cards and barbecuing, at which there were fresh cherries. I'm not a big fan of cherries myself, but I like cherry trees, so I took a bunch of pits home with me to see if I could sprout them. Further bulletins as events warrant.

UPDATE: No dice. Cherry pits are very hard to start. I put 'em in starter pods and kept 'em warm and moist and they just sat there. Maybe if I planted them in the fall and left them all winter, but no guarantees the squirrels won't eat 'em or some other peril befall them. It'll be easier to just buy a young tree next spring.

July 6 to
July 8

       Week after week of travel! Last week we went 400 miles to north to Petoskey, MI, and this week we went 400 miles north to Cumberland, WI for Erick's wedding. (Two different links there, you'll note.) It was something of a whirlwind romance, at least so it seems to me. I don't hear from the guy more than once or twice a year, and the last time I talked to him he hadn't met anyone. Now he calls and asks to meet us for dinner so he can give us some news. (This was 2 months ago.) He says, "I'm getting married!" and we say, "A year ago you didn't even have a girlfriend!" He met Gwen online and they seemed to click, and I think she's pretty great, too, so good for you, Erick! The wedding was outside on Gwen's mother's property, a beautiful little hillside by a lake spread. (They fell for the "Magic 7/7/07" hype, heh heh! At least they didn't run off to Vegas.)

       On our way up, before we left Chi-town, we picked up a $5 Where's George bill, which we dropped as a tip for the helpful hostess at the little cafe we had breakfast at in Cumberland, the Our Place Cafe. Nice spot, lots of good wood carvings on the walls, stop in if you're passing through.

July 18

       What a fascinating day this is turning out to be! Firstly, of course, it's Arizona's Birthday! He has existed for 6 years! Yay! Today he got to go see Happy Feet at the kid's matinee, and tonight he'll get ice cream cake and spaghetti. Tomorrow he'll go glow-in-the-dark mini-golfing with his friend Andrew.

       What makes it even more fun is the happy conclusion of the stolen yard decorations phenomenon. Yesterday, I went outside in the morning (as I do every morning) to check on the gardens and get the paper when I noticed our flag and the stupid old IKEA bench that had sat under the spruce tree out front was gone! I called the police, who reported that several such incidents had been reported in the area. Apparantly some local group of punks had been doing stuff like this for a few days. They were taking yard decorations from one yard and putting them in different yards. (This would have been funny if they'd only moved stuff one or two yards away, so I could see the bench from where it used to rest, but they moved it a block away and around the corner.) They had also stashed some yard decorations and some park district signs in the back yard of one of their number, and that particular punk's punk mother knew about it and failed to report it, so the police charged her in the case. Well, today the police called me back -- just as the boys and I were leaving the morning matinee -- and said one of the punks had identified the bench and told police where to find it. When we got home from the movies, I found a police car driving toward the house with the bench in the trunk! Later today two of the kids actually came by with some American flag yard decorations, explaining that while *they* hadn't taken the items, their friends had, and they were sorry and were one of these mine. I yelled at them a bit then told them that I was missing a real flag. They said, "Oh, yeah, we know where that is." It was returned five minutes later. I'm still not happy about it, but at least these two had the balls to try to fix the situation.

July 23 to
August 18

       So, Kim somehow managed to tear up her knee. The meniscus (shock absorber pad) in her right knee developed a painful tear; nobody's sure when or where this happened. Typical treatment for an injury like this is first to pin the torn bit together and hope it heals, and if that fails to snip it out. Many pinned menisci do not heal, but we're trying it anyway and hoping for the best.

       The worst part about this procedure is the recovery time. Kim was on crutches for a month post-op. The surgeon told us that this kind of injury usually occurs when the knee is flexed and twisted, as when one is sitting cross-legged/indian style/criss-cross applesauce [choose one]. This means swimming or driving are difficult, since both can cause your knee to rotate. (If you drive with your seat close to the wheel, your knee bends more and your leg falls to the right, against the center console. This constitutes twisting. Driving probably does not cause this injury, but this position will aggravate it after the fact.) So for a month Kim was essentially unable to go to work. We shipped her to Texas, instead.

       She and the boys spent 4 weeks hangin' with Grandma and Grandpa Davis and Uncle Joe. Kim worked remotely, and the boys got to do a lot of fun Texas stuff. I was staying home theoretically to guide the house construction project (check the update above to see how that worked out) and to care for the house and the critters. It was the first time since... ever... that the house has stayed neat and clean for more than 2 days!

       As a surprise for Kim, I planned (with Davis family help) a train trip to San Antonio near the end of her stay. I dropped the dog at doggie day-care, threw a pack on my back, locked up the house and hiked the mile or so to the Metra station on the morning of Wednesday, August 8th. I ended up remembering why it is that I don't like doing a lot of heavy work outside in a Chicago summer. This was my first real cross-country train trip, and it was fun, although Amtrak could use a LOT of improvement in the customer service area. Train travel is definitely one of those areas where it is to one's benefit to chat with a seasoned railway traveller before you go.

       I was only able to stay in San Antonio for a couple of days before I had to catch a return train, but we had a good time, anyway. I was able to surprise Kim completely, which shocked us all, really. My train got in to San Antonio at 10:00 at night, and when Grandpa and Uncle Joe left to pick me up, they told Kim they had "an errand to run". I called Kim from the car to attempt to further the deception and was hard put not to laugh as she complained, "What errand could they be running at 10 o'clock at night?" When we got to the house, Kim was reading on the sofa. I walked over and stood before her for several seconds before she finally looked up from her book and squeaked. Goofy chick.

UPDATE: Didn't work. The meniscus patch didn't hold, so Kim got a bit cut out to stop the pain. On November 27 she went in to surgery, and within a fortnight she was feeling better than she had for months. This surgery is supposed to hasten the onset of arthritis, but with regular and careful exercise this can be mitigated somewhat, so in mid-December we got her an exercise bike. All seems well so far.

August 6

6 Flags Great America       Went to Six Flags Great America with Erick and Gwen today. Wahoo! Not that Great America is that special, I suppose, but I don't get to go that often. I highly recommend the Raging Bull. I don't know if it quite qualifies as a hyper-coaster (although they call it a "hyper-twister") but it's very fast and smooth and high, regardless.

       By the way, when did I grow up? I had the opportunity to order hot dogs, cotton candy, and funnel cakes, and I got a teriyaki rice bowl and water. WTF?!?

August 23

       A very sad day.

Our Bathtub Kitty

Sukey Lou Kohler
has gone to the Rainbow Bridge.

       She has been with us since 1998, when she stationed herself on our back steps and waited for us to fall in love with her adorable diamond nose. I will miss her mermeling, her statuesque poses, her tiny weight on my feet whenever they are under a blanket, and especially her paw reaching out to bap me as I walk past the aquarium, dresser or bookcase where she perched. She was the only one of our girls who would consent to play with the dog. She loved to chase balls of crumpled paper and to watch us work from the top of the computer monitor.

       I miss her.

September 15

The Ragin' Cajun!The Demon       Went to Great America (again) for Kim's company picnic. Arizona went on his FIRST EVER roller coaster, the Ragin' Cajun! He thought it was great while it was spinning and twisting back and forth, but the sudden drop shook him up a little bit. Still, he enjoyed it enough to go on the Demon later, which he loved. (Well, he says he liked it, but afterwards he only wanted to do midway games and kid's rides.) We spent a lot of time in an area of the park that we have (up until now) avoided: Camp Cartoon Network and the Looney Lodge therein. Imagine a great big cage full of cartoon characters and air cannons, each taking 3-inch foam balls as ammo, and so many balls in the air and on the floor at all times that visibility is reduced to 20 feet. This was a HUGE hit.

Ragin Cajun from the air

October 8

Apple pickin'! WE went apple pickin'! WE had fun apple pickin'! YAY, apple pickin'!

Apples in a Row

       We went to Homestead Orchard today to do some apple pickin'. See, we just got this new pressure canner, and we got excited, and apple pickin' is fun anyway, so we went and picked a bushel of apples. That's a standard laundry basket heaped full. That's a lot of apples. One bushel has already become applesauce, and lemme tell ya, that is some GOOD freakin' applesauce. The ultimate destination for the rest is still a bit up in the air. At least some of it is gonna have to be more applesauce.

Jonagold apple       As soon as we got there, Xavier grabbed a red delicious off of the ground. He got his own quarter-peck bag, into which he put his red delicious and nothing else until we were just about done, at which point he suddenly grabbed all the immature golden delicious he could find and shoved them in there. ("Accidentally" losing those took a bit of work.) We all had a great time, and we should be well stocked for fresh applesauce, apple butter, and apple pies well into the new year.

October 17

       There's this tree at Arizona's school with very temptingly climbable brances that are juuuust out of reach. Well, today he was finally able to grab that lowest branch, and it didn't take him long to get all the way up. Xavier is mad. HE wants to climb the tree, too. I think not, Mr. Been-to-the-ER-twice-already.

Zona atop the tree, finally.

October 24

       10 years and 95,000 miles it has been since we bought our truck. She's worked hard for us, but she's gotten old. We've had to replace part of the A/C system, the tires and battery several times, the driver's seat, and various pieces of the suspension. Her interior has gotten old, dirty and torn, her body is dinged and scratched, her springs are incessantly squeaky. It's almost gotten to the point where the average monthly cost of upkeep and repair is as much as a new car payment. AND the A/C is still broken and will require more cash to fix. Well, the final straw has come. In a light rain, I went out to close the vent windows (those tilty windows in the back of the cab) and as I have done for 10 years, I bopped it closed, rather than unlocking and opening the door and reaching around and fiddling with the levers while the rain coated me and the front seat. However, instead of neatly closing, the window *exploded*. Shards of safety glass flew 20 feet.

Sirius Sattelite Radio       All of this happened last week. Today we took posession of our new car, a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid in Kiwi Green. Finding her was a bit of a hassle. We looked at various cars and decided that we wanted a hybrid, but I need something bigger than a standard small car. The Escape hybrid fit the bill perfectly. However, of all the Ford dealers in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago, only 1 had any in stock. He had 20. ALL of those had the premium interior package, which we didn't want. I got messy kids; I don't really want leather seats, you know? And I don't listen to the radio that much, so what do I need Sirius Sattelite radio for?

       Turns out leather seats look and smell nice, and they wipe clean pretty easy. And getting sattelite radio just before Halloween is HILARIOUS!

October 25-28

       Chicago Area Mensa, like all local Mensa groups, hosts an annual Regional Gathering (RG), at which they pull out all the stops, just like every group. For many Mensans, it's the only time during the year that they make a local meeting. Well, our group uses the last weekend before Halloween, thus they call it HalloweeM, or just WeeM. They've been doing it for 32 years now, and given the size of the Chicago chapter (2000 members, one of the largest in the world) and the holiday in question, it's one of the biggest parties Mensa throws.

       WeeM involves three days of free food and drink, two dances, endless board games, game tournaments, a fancy spirits and confectionary tasting, a dressy banquet, a HUGE costume contest, and 4 tracks of speakers and presentations on just about any subject you can think of. (Meaning at any one time, 4 different presentations are running.) This year, among MANY other things, there were presentations on ghosts, kung-fu movies, healthy eating, Judaism, mead brewing, and squirrels. The whole thing is fascinating.

       I was actually the decorations chair this year, which doesn't really involve much, as so many different things go on (and the hotel has so many rules about what can be done where in their convention space) that decorating really amounts to table centerpieces. But they were great centerpieces!

Spider Centerpieces

November 2-4

       Years, it's been. I've been wanting to do more outside stuff for years. But Kim isn't as in to outdoor stuff as I am, and the boys are too young yet. Well, I finally found someone who'll go with me.

       Matt's cousin Catrina married a guy who feels the same way I do. In fact, Jim has a little girl who also isn't old enough to get out yet. So we teamed up this weekend, and went camping!

       I got myself a whole new backpacking kit -- pack, camp gear, travel fishing gear, good boots, the works -- and we took off for the wilderness! We had a great time, more than I can really cover here, so if you want to know more about it, you'll have to go into the woods.

Into the Woods

November 30

Alexander Ambrose       Welcome to the World, Alexander Ambrose! Our good frends Matt and Melanie are parents! Yay!

Friday, November 30, 2007
3:03 p. m.
8 lb. 4 oz.
21 in.

December 27-30

       The TSA is bad, m'kay? We took a family trip down to Bowling Green to visit my folks. Rather than spend cash on a plane ticket and a rental car and 5 days of dog boarding, we drove and took the dog with us. (It's only a one day drive, after all.) Worked great. No sweat. (You know, since the TSA came into existence, I've taken a train trip and 4 car trips, but no plane trips? Kiss my ass, TSA!)

       We had a very pleasant stay. Arizona helped Grandma and Grandpa deliver some pre-made meals to some underpriveledged folks -- a Meals on Wheels kind of thing -- and I helped with some minor home repair tasks, which I always enjoy. (No, really. Ask anyone who knows me. It's fun.) The Drury Inn in Bowling Green has a great pet policy, but the Outback Steakhouse next door was questionable, at best. I had to go back three times to correct our takeout order!

       We didn't do any touristy stuff this time around. Maybe next time we'll go in a warmer season so we can take the boys back to Mammoth Cave National Park.